Best for Families: Bobcat Trail— Sonoran Park Preserve from The 10 Best Desert Hikes in Arizona

The 10 Best Desert Hikes in Arizona

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Best for Families: Bobcat Trail— Sonoran Park Preserve

At only a mile long and 135 feet in elevation change, this wide, hard-packed trail is best for families with wee hikers who have a habit of asking "Are we there yet?" Gently rolling and picturesque, you can either do an out and back or use the Bobcat Trail to connect with other trails in the system. Note there isn't a designated parking area and the trail is accessible only by foot.

North Trail— McDowell Mountain Regional Park

As opposed to the other multi-purpose trails in this popular park, the North Trail is a family-friendly hike and bike only. At 2.9 miles long (round trip), this mostly flat trail is ideal for older kids and beginner hikers because of its gentle slopes and hard-packed natural surface.


Judith Tunnell Accessible Trail— South Mountain

Likely the least difficult trail in the region, the Judith Tunnell Trail is also one of the newest. Decomposed granite provides a smooth surface perfect for strollers or wheelchairs, and drinking fountains, benches and covered ramadas offer up a comfortable place to rest along the one-mile route. Interpretive signs help parents answers the questions about the desert's flora and fauna coming from curious hikers.


Lost Dog Wash Trailhead— McDowall Sonoran Preserve

As one of the major access points for the Preserve, Lost Dog Wash Trailhead offers shorter and easier trails throughout the McDowall Sonoroan Preserve. Our pick from this trailhead is the Ringtail Trail because of its archeological significance— some of the rock flakes along the trail are from prehistoric tool-making work!

Guide Tip: Stay Hydrated— Keeping everyone in your family hydrated is key to a good day on the trails. AOA guide Megan Anderson suggests that everyone on the trip have their own hydration bladder, rather than carrying water bottles. "It is an easy way to carry a lot of water and you don’t have to always open and close your backpack," says Anderson. "I find them really great for kids because they end up chewing on the drinking hose and staying really well hydrated."


Best for Photographers: Tom Thumb Trail— McDowall Sonoran Preserve

Fit hikers up for the challenging trails beginning from the Tom Thumb Trailhead will be rewarded with the best views in the entire preserve. Lookout Viewpoint is a 5.7-mile hike with 1,100 feet elevation gain, but the climb is worth it. Only at this elevation can you see the unusual vegetation and flowers unique to this part or the preserve. The Tom Thumb Trail is also an AOA and Pure Adventures favorite. "The unique landscape riddled with giant granite boulders with such unique forms they appear almost as sculpture," says AOA's Annemarie Medrzycki.


Go-John Trail— Cave Creek Regional Park

Visitors to this trail will be rewarded with sweeping cactus studded views of this popular recreation destination. Looping around a mountain, the Go John Trail is a moderately difficult 5.8-mile shared-use trail that makes hikers feel like they are miles away from civilization. Another reason we like it: It's just plain fun!


Best for Adventurers: Black Canyon Trail

In central Arizona, the Black Canyon Trail is home to some of the state's best technical singletrack. Weaving through the 7,000 foot Bradshaw Mountains, we're biased in thinking that the 13 mile point to point is best experienced on a mountain bike, but fit hikers will appreciate the climbs and river crossings too.


Boulder Canyon Trail

This popular hike in the Superstition Mountains is also an AOA pick for fit hikers. The 7.3-mile trail connects Canyon Lake to La Barge Creek and is famous for the wide variety of spring wildflowers. But why wait until spring when the temperature is perfect right now?


Brown's Ranch Trailhead— McDowall Sonoran Preserve

Home to more than 100 miles of pristine desert trails, the trails found here were originally carved by the motocross community. Restored by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, the trails are lined by the mighty Saguaro and huge granite boulders. Again, we think the mountain bikers will get a kick out of rollercoaster-like hills, but fit hikers can make a day of the climbs and scenery here.


Alta Trail— South Mountain Park

Very steep and very difficult, the Alta Trail in South Mountain Park is considered to be the most challenging trail in the park. Even though the trail is only 4.5 miles long, the 1,100 feet in elevation gain means that fit athletes up for the adventure will be rewarded with striking views of Phoenix's desert landscape.

The 10 Best Desert Hikes in Arizona